How Video Games Can Train You for a Job: Lessons from Learning Engineering Research and Duolingo’s Success
by Jake Price on Oct 20, 2023 12:39:17 PM
Have you ever thought about how video games can help you prepare for a job? Well, it’s time to start thinking about it. Video games are not just for entertainment anymore, but they can also serve as powerful tools for learning and skill development. In this article, I will explore the success of Duolingo, how books like “Reality is Broken” by Jane McGonigal and “The Gamer’s Brain” by Celia Hodent inform game design, and how the concept of “learning engineering” can help maximize the benefits of video games for job training.
Duolingo, the language learning program developed with the help of learning engineering research from Carnegie Mellon University’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute (HCI), is a great example of how video games can be used for effective language learning. With over 500 million users worldwide, Duolingo has become a leading platform for learning foreign languages. It’s remarkable that more people use Duolingo to learn a foreign language in the US than in the entire US public school system. In research studies, it has been shown that completing one course in Duolingo is as effective as two years of learning a foreign language at a university. One secret to Duolingo’s success lies in its use of spaced repetition, where learning material is shorter and spaced out over time, and the lag effect, where the spacing between practices gradually increases, allowing for better retention and application of knowledge over time.
In her book “Reality is Broken,” McGonigal suggests that video games can provide a sense of purpose, meaning, and achievement that is often lacking in the real world. By incorporating game mechanics into real-world tasks, we can make tasks more engaging, enjoyable, and motivating, leading to better performance and learning outcomes. “The Gamer’s Brain” by Hodent takes a closer look at how video game design can influence learning and skill development. Hodent argues that effective game design involves breaking down complex tasks into smaller, more manageable components, and gradually building up to more challenging tasks. This process, known as chunking, can help learners better understand and apply complex information, leading to more efficient and effective learning. Hodent also emphasizes the importance of feedback and rewards, which can provide motivation and reinforcement for learning.
“The Learning Engineering Toolkit” by Jim Goodell delves deeper into the concept of learning engineering, which is about facilitating the overall learning process, helping a learner move from novice to a greater level of expertise for any given skill, knowledge, or ability. The book outlines specific learning engineering techniques like the spacing effect, which suggests that people learn better when the learning material is shorter and spaced out over time, and the lag effect, which suggests that people learn better if the spacing between practices gradually increases. Both of these techniques are used to great effect in Duolingo. Goodell also posits the idea that building expertise is about building new mental models, and space learning is about making what you know more accessible. The concept of “retrieval practice” combines the two. In practice and development of learning systems, this means that the best time to practice is when you’re on the verge of forgetting.
Understanding the three types of memory – sensory memory, working memory, and long-term memory – can also inform the design of effective learning experiences. Experts rely on long-term memory and pattern recognition to solve problems, while novices may struggle with sensory overload. By incorporating these insights into the design of video games for job training, we can help learners build the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in their chosen careers.
Neuroplasticity can be accessed in the adult brain by implementing a sense of urgency within the task at hand, as noted by Andrew Huberman. Mcgonigal notes in
“Reality is Broken” that videogames are so enjoyable because they allow the user to get into “the flow” within 15 minutes if the game is well designed. Most other activities that can get a user into “the flow” require years of mastery before someone is good enough to get into the flow. Video games have the potential to achieve this flow state very early, which can lead to greater engagement, motivation, and learning.
One company that exemplifies the use of video games for job training is Haiku, Inc., which has developed cybersecurity training video games. Haiku’s “Games that Train” are designed to teach cybersecurity skills mapped to the NICE framework and connect players to jobs based on their skills. The company employs all of the learning engineering techniques discussed in this article and more to make access to cybersecurity training available to a much wider demographic than would normally be attracted to cybersecurity training. Haiku measures the skills of players and allows them to demonstrate those skills to employers in a Skillz resume. The company’s game is built in a role-playing format specifically because 60% of role-playing gamers are women, and the character design team is almost all female. Haiku’s use of video games to teach cybersecurity has the potential to achieve far greater diversity in the cybersecurity workforce than any other top-down methods, just as Duolingo has revolutionized foreign language training.
In conclusion, video games can be used as powerful tools for job training and skill development. Learning engineering research, successful platforms like Duolingo, and expert insights from books such as “Reality is Broken” and “The Gamer’s Brain” can inform the design of effective learning experiences. Understanding the three types of memory, the importance of chunking, feedback, and rewards, and the potential for achieving a flow state through video games can help learners build the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in their desired careers. Companies like Haiku are leading the way in using video games to teach real-world skills and connecting players to jobs based on their skills. The potential for video games to transform the future of job training and career development is exciting, and we can’t wait to see what the future holds.
- Carnegie Mellon University’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute. (n.d.). About the Duolingo Language Program. https://www.hcii.cmu.edu/research/duolingo-language-program
- Duolingo. (n.d.). Duolingo Statistics. https://www.duolingo.com/press
- National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). (2020). National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education (NICE) Cybersecurity Workforce Framework. https://www.nist.gov/itl/applied-cybersecurity/nice/nice-cybersecurity-workforce-framework-resource-center
- McGonigal, J. (2011). Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World. Penguin Press.
- Hodent, C. (2018). The Gamer’s Brain: How Neuroscience and UX Can Impact Video Game Design. CRC Press.
- Goodell, J. (2020). The Learning Engineering Toolkit: A Practical Guide to Designing Learning Interventions. Routledge.
- Huberman, A. (2021, February 10). Science of the Mind. Andrew Huberman Lab Podcast. https://hubermanlab.com/science-of-the-mind/
- Haiku, Inc. (n.d.). Games that Train. https://haikuinc.io/
- Carnegie Mellon University’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute research on learning engineering was used to build the Duolingo Language Program (Carnegie Mellon University’s Human-Computer Interaction Institute, n.d.).
- Duolingo has over 500 million users worldwide, more users in the US than the entire public school system, and one course in Duolingo has been shown to be as effective as two years of learning a foreign language in a university (Duolingo, n.d.).
- Jane McGonigal suggests that video games can provide a sense of purpose, meaning, and achievement that is often lacking in the real world (McGonigal, 2011).
- Celia Hodent emphasizes the importance of breaking down complex tasks into smaller, more manageable components, and gradually building up to more challenging tasks (Hodent, 2018).
- Jim Goodell discusses specific learning engineering techniques like the spacing effect and the lag effect in his book “The Learning Engineering Toolkit” (Goodell, 2020).
- Andrew Huberman suggests that neuroplasticity can be accessed in the adult brain by implementing a sense of urgency within the task at hand (Huberman, 2021).
- Video games have the potential to achieve a flow state within 15 minutes, if the user is good, which can lead to greater engagement, motivation, and learning (McGonigal, 2011).
- Haiku, Inc. uses video games to teach cybersecurity skills and connect players to jobs based on their skills (Haiku, Inc., n.d.).